Monday, October 27, 2014

Wesley's Sermons: "On a Catholic Spirit"

In the Spring, many at IWU are going to be reading some of Ken Collins and Jason Vickers' mammoth new Wesley collection, Wesley's sermons arranged systematically. Since I'll be reading through the sermons anyway (right now we're reading Steve Harper's The Way to Heaven in preparation), I thought I might poke a little at a project I've suggested someone do--paraphrasing key sermons of Wesley in contemporary English.

So why not? I thought I'd start today with sermon #34 (in the collection of 44 sermons) or #39 (in the collection of 53): "On a Catholic Spirit."
On a Catholic Spirit [1]

Scripture: 2 Kings 10:15
"And when Jehu departed from there, he met up with Jehonadab, the son of Rechab, who was coming to meet him. 

"And Jehu greeted him and said, 'Is your heart with me, as my heart is with you?' 

"And Jehonadab answered, 'It is.' 

"'If it is,' Jehu answered, 'then give me your hand.'"

1. "You will love your neighbor as yourself." Even those who don't love as they should, agree that they owe love to all humanity. This is the royal law. When you hear the command, you know it's right.

The command does not mean what some of those in Jesus' day took it to mean--love your relative, your friend, your associate, "but hate your enemy." Not so, Jesus said. Rather, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you." Do good to those who hate you. Pray for those who use you in spite, who persecute you. If you do these things, you will be children of your Father in heaven, who gives sun not only to the righteous but to the evil as well. He does the same with the rain. (Matt. 5:43-45). If you do these things, all humanity will see it.

2. To be sure, there is a special love we owe to those who love God. David wrote, "All my delight is on the saints who are on the earth on those who excel at virtue" (Ps. 16:3). [2] And of course Jesus is greater than David, and he says, "I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must love one another." (John 13:34-35).

The Apostle John frequently and strongly insists on this love.  He says, "This is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." (1 John 3:11) "By this we perceive the love of God: because he laid down his life for us." So we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, if love should call us to do so. (3:16)

Again John says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God." The one who doesn't love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:7-8) "Not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (4:10-11)

3. Everyone agrees with these ideas. But does everyone practice it? Our daily experience shows the opposite. Where are there even Christians who love each other as he has given the commandment?

How many obstacles stand in the way? The two biggest hindrances are 1) Christians do not agree on everything and, consequently, 2) we do not have the same lifestyle. Indeed, their way of living in small matters differs in proportion to how different their beliefs are.

4. So Christians will differ in their opinions or in the way they worship. These may prevent us from uniting as organizations. But does it need to prevent us from loving each other? Although we do not think the same way, can we not love the same way? Isn't it possible for us to be of one heart, even though we aren't of one opinion?

Without a doubt, we can! In this way, all the children of God can unite, despite our smaller differences. Even though these other differences remain, we can advance each other forward in love and good works.

5. So we see in the example of Jehu in the Scripture, even though he was a mixed sort of character. His sentiment is worth the attention and imitation of every Christian. "And when Jehu departed from there, he met up with Jehonadab, the son of Rechab, who was coming to meet him. And Jehu greeted him and said, 'Is your heart with me, as my heart is with you?' And Jehonadab answered, 'It is.' 'If it is,' Jehu answered, 'then give me your hand.'"

This Scripture naturally divides into two parts. First there is a question from Jehu to Jehonadab. "Is your heart with me, as my heart is with you?" Then there is the offer, after Jehonadab responds, "It is." "If it is, then give me your hand."


[1] I have kept the word catholic in the title because it is a good word to learn in the sense that Wesley used it. Catholic here does not mean "Roman Catholic" because, of course, Wesley was not a Roman Catholic nor was he particularly friendly in some of his writings toward the Roman Catholic Church.

The word "catholic" here has its older sense of the church everywhere in all times and places. It is the universal Church. To have a "catholic" spirit in this sense is to sense your unity with Christians who belong to Christian groups other than your own. The sermon will make this sense clear.

[2] As we would expect of a man from the eighteenth century, Wesley was a pre-modern in his use of Scripture. He read its words in the light of the way words were read in his day and, of course, assuming traditional authorship. 


matthew said...

It is very interesting that you mention that. I've actually been leading our prayer meeting group at church through this volume by making 250 word paraphrases of each sermon and providing discussion questions. So far we are on sermon #20

jps said...

Kinghorn actually did this about 10 years ago for Abingdon Press:


Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for that info!